Book Talk Event: Yu Miri at Princeton University
Time & Location
October 5, 4:30pm EDT
302 Frist Hall, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
Yu Miri, a writer known for Tokyo Ueno Station and a winner of National Book Award for Translated Literature, comes to Princeton University to talk about newly translated The End of August as well as her earlier works with Princeton University’s scholars Atsuko Ueda and Ryo Morimoto.
Yu Miri is a writer of plays, prose fiction, and essays, with over twenty books to her name. She received Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, she began to visit the affected area, hosting a radio show to listen to survivors’ stories. She relocated to Fukushima in 2015 and has opened a bookstore and theater space to continue her cultural work in collaboration with those affected by the disaster. Her novel Tokyo Ueno Station won the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature.
Atsuko Ueda, Professor of East Asian Studies, specializes in modern Japanese literature and culture. Her research interests include literary historiography of modern Japan; linguistic reforms of Meiji Japan and the production of a “national” language; postwar literary criticism and its relationship to war responsibility. Most recently, she published a book entitled Language, Nation, Race: Linguistic Reform in Meiji Japan 1868-1912 (UC press, 2021), which explores the many proposals for linguistic reforms prevalent in the Meiji period. In this book, she examines the first two decades of the Meiji period with specific focus on the issue of race, contending that no analysis of imperialism or nationalism is possible without it.
She has recently co-edited The Politics and Literature Debate in Postwar Japanese Criticism, 1945–52 (New Studies in Modern Japan) and Literature among the Ruins, 1945–1955: Postwar Japanese Literary Criticism (New Studies in Modern Japan). She is also the co-editor of Natsume Sōseki, Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings of Natsume Sōseki (Columbia University Press, 2009). Her first book, Concealment of Politics, Politics of Concealment, was published by Stanford University Press in 2007.
Ryo Morimoto is a first-generation student and scholar from Japan. His scholarly work addresses the planetary impacts of our past and present engagements with nuclear things. Regionally centered on Japan, Morimoto’s research creates spaces, languages, and archives through which to think about nuclear things, along with other not immediately sensible contaminants, as part of what it means to live in the late industrial and postfallout era. He grounds his work in a range of theoretical frameworks—including semiotic anthropology, anthropology of disaster, environmental anthropology, anthropology and the recent history of Japan, anthropology of science and technology, and digital humanities. Morimoto mobilizes them to explore the uses and applications of technologies in social processes whereby certain sensory-cognitive experiences are (im)materialized and to grapple with the techno-sensory politics that emerge in discourses concerning invisible things. His scholarship addresses the experiences of lay public to read situated perspectives against the archive of what has been rendered perceptible.
Morimoto completed his first book project, titled Nuclear Ghost: Atomic Livelihoods in Fukushima’s Gray Zone (forthcoming in June 2023 from University of California Press). This book integrates environmental anthropology, recent Japanese history, and science and technology studies to understand the uses and applications of technologies in social processes whereby certain sensory-cognitive experiences are (im)materialized. Morimoto uses the local term “nuclear ghost” to analyze the struggles of representing and experiencing low-dose radiation exposure in coastal Fukushima, where individual, social, political, and scientific determinations of the threshold of exposure are often inconsistent. Against the state’s reliance on technoscientific measurements to regiment what it means to be exposed, his ethnography explores local experiences of radiation exposure, as well as situated ways of knowing and living with nuclear things in people’s shifting relationships with contaminated others such as wildlife, lands, and ancestors.
Synopsis of Tokyo Ueno Station:
In 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, Lee Woo-cheol was a running prodigy and a contender for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. But he would have had to run under the Japanese flag. Nearly a century later, his granddaughter is living in Japan and training to run a marathon herself. She summons Korean shamans to hold an intense, transcendent ritual to connect with Lee Woo-cheol. When his ghost appears, alongside those of his brother Lee Woo-Gun, and their young neighbor, who was forced to become a comfort woman to Japanese soldiers stationed in China during World War II, she must uncover their stories to free their souls. What she discovers is at the heart of this sweeping, majestic novel about a family that endured death, love, betrayal, war, political upheaval, and ghosts, both vengeful and wistful.
A poetic masterpiece that is a feat of historical fiction, epic family saga, and mind-bending story-telling acrobatics, The End of August is a marathon of literature.
Synopsis of Tokyo Ueno Station:
Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese Emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the Imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo.
Kazu’s life in the city began and ended in that park; he arrived there to work as a laborer in the preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and ended his days living in the vast homeless village in the park, traumatized by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and shattered by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics.
Through Kazu’s eyes, we see daily life in Tokyo buzz around him and learn the intimate details of his personal story, how loss and society’s inequalities and constrictions spiraled towards this ghostly fate, with moments of beauty and grace just out of reach. A powerful masterwork from one of Japan’s most brilliant outsider writers, Tokyo Ueno Station is a book for our times and a look into a marginalized existence in a shiny global megapolis.
This event is co-organized by Princeton University’s Program in East Asian Studies and The Japan Foundation New York.